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Water safety (buoyancy aids and lifejackets)


(Published January 2022, replacing January 2015)

All members taking part in water activities (excluding swimming, scuba diving and snorkelling) must wear an EC or ISO approved buoyancy aid or lifejacket appropriate to the activity, conditions and size of the participant. This does not apply when members are below decks.

Choosing the right equipment

The activity leader/permit holder is responsible for choosing an appropriate personal flotation device for the participants taking part in the session. If you’re not a permit holder and you’re operating on Class C waters then you may need seek advice from a permit holder, assessor or adviser. Those deciding on what buoyancy aids or life jackets are used need the knowledge to make informed decisions about this. If in doubt ask for help.

Type - First you will need to decide whether a buoyancy aid or a life jacket is most appropriate, these each come in different grades which provide different safety features. A buoyancy aid is designed to assist a conscious person when in the water and so is suitable for most activities where the risk of being knocked unconscious is relatively low. For activities where there is a higher likelihood of becoming unconscious then a life jacket may be more suitable.

Size - These items come in a range of sizes, it is important to have the right equipment available for the participants. If the garment is too loose then it may be ineffective if the person enters the water and likewise if the item is too small then it may not be able to be secured properly or be capable of keeping them afloat. Having a range of sizes is always good if delivering to diverse groups.

Style - Again the style can vary. Some products being designed to provide impact protection for activities such as water skiing and personal water craft (jet ski), whilst others are designed to give more freedom for movement around the arms, helpful for paddlesports etc. Choose wisely and if you are going to use the item for multiple activities there are products on the market which also cater for this.

The choice of equipment should be informed by your activity plans and risk assessment, documenting and communicating your plans and reasons for your decisions will help others understand how they can help keep the activity safe with the use and fitting of the equipment.

Checking equipment

It is important that all lifejackets or buoyancy aids are tested and repaired as necessary. Buoyancy aids and lifejackets should be inspected along with the other water activity equipment. It is the responsibility of the permit holder or activity leader to ensure all equipment is suitable for use.

This should be done in conjunction with following the manufacturer’s guidance for storage and maintenance.

Checks can be varied but should include the following:

  • Is the material in good order, no tears etc?
  • Are all straps and buckles in working order?
  • Is the flotation aid (foam, gas etc) within the device in good order, this can be checked by feel or a more formal weight test?

If there is any doubt, the advice of the Assistant County Commissioner (Water Activities), County or District Water Activity Adviser, activity Assessor or permit holder should be sought.

Storage of equipment

It is good practice to store equipment in a cool environment and out of direct sunlight, this will help to prolong the life of the product. If using the product in salt water the equipment should be rinsed with clean water after use and to ensure that all equipment is dried in a suitable manner, hanging is always best.

Monitoring equipment

It is also recommended that all lifejackets and buoyancy aids be individually marked (in line with the manufacturer’s instructions for marking) with an identification system and that a record be kept of the date of purchase, any repairs and the dates of the annual inspections.  This will assist with the long-term planning for renewal and the budget implications associated with such renewals.

Damaged equipment

If anything is damaged or not fit for use then it should be clearly marked and secured so that it can not be used. If items are repaired then the equipment must be checked again by a competent person prior to putting the item back into use.

Who can help and advise me?

There are lots of people who can help with maintaining and repairing equipment, these may be available within your group or may come from elsewhere. Make sure you check with someone who has the skills if you don’t yourself before proceeding with repairs.

Safety notes

All garments should be worn correctly in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

Lifejackets and buoyancy aids are no substitute for appropriate behaviour, correct training, good organisation, use of correct facilities, qualified leadership and correct briefing are paramount for water safety. 

Other safety equipment

On board yachts Safety harnesses should be worn during the hours of darkness and at the direction of the permit holder.

When operating powerboats, kill cords must be used and attached as appropriate to the driver. A second kill cord should be kept on board to allow boat to be re-started if the driver and kill cord have gone overboard.